‘When a decision is made, we know who’s accountable’

The lure of a role that involves taking a small business and “generating growth momentum” behind it has proved irresistible for Mike Webb, who acknowledges this has been an attraction for him throughout his career.

Whether at Invesco Perpetual, Hermes Fund Managers or Rathbone Unit Trust Management, where he is chief executive, he notes “it’s something I really enjoy”.

It may be difficult to imagine that any of those companies were once considered small, but Mr Webb joined them when they were much more under the radar than they are today.

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He remembers starting at Invesco in 1998 as managing director of its retail business when it had £1.2bn under management. It’s hardly small fry, but Mr Webb explains that at the time it was “a small business within quite a large firm”.

“We grew that in the following three years to around £8bn,” he says. “At which point Perpetual came up for sale. We bought Perpetual and the retail business became Invesco Perpetual. I was chief executive of that business until 2004.

“When I left in 2004 we [had] about £21bn and were certainly the fastest selling unit trust business in the UK. I can remember when I first stood up and said, ‘our aim is to overtake Fidelity’, we looked like we were mad, but we were very successful.”

Following his departure in 2004 Mr Webb took a break from his career to go travelling and on his return realised he had little experience on the institutional side.

“So I joined Hermes and spent a very happy time there reorganising its business, making it more commercial and building a sequence of multi-asset boutiques, including purchasing a number of companies.”

But after a few years he decided the job was “a little bit too institutional for me” and what he really wanted was an opportunity to take a small business and “bring momentum back”. That came in the form of Rathbones, which he joined in February 2010.

He refers to Rathbones as a “business that had lost momentum” in the wake of the financial crisis. Assets under management had peaked at roughly £2.2bn in May 2007 but had declined to £750m by the time Mr Webb joined.

“We have been working since then to regain the profile and keep the business stable,” he adds. “I am very fortunate that I have a number of senior fund managers who have been here in excess of 10 years – they are highly talented. We have been adding resources to support them as the business has been growing again. We have also rebuilt the sales and distribution part of the business because that had been knocked sideways when I arrived.”

He goes on: “It was really about creating confidence in the business, making sure that we retained our talent, added to it, realigned our remuneration to the success of our clients and making sure we all had a share in that success.”

When Mr Webb talks about the company, the word “collegiate” keeps cropping up. He is clear about the type of culture he set out to create: “We don’t stand on ceremony, but there is obviously clear accountability throughout the organisation. That’s the way I like it, so we treat each other with respect but don’t wield authority all over the place. It’s just when a decision needs to be made, we know who’s accountable for doing it.”